|Pte. Gordon Vincent Potter's headstone, Dury Mill British Cemetery|
|Pte. Simon O'Haley's headstone, Vis-en-Artois Cemetery|
On January 17, 1917, Simon and Gordon were transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion, the unit responsible for providing reinforcements for the 25th and 85th Battalions, Nova Scotia’s two front-line combat units. Three months later, Gordon proceeded overseas for service with the 85th, while Simon joined him in late June.
The two young soldiers were in the line during the 85th’s late October 1917 Passchendaele tour. The unit participated in the second stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge, securing its objective but suffering what later proved to be its worst losses of the war. Gordon and Simon came through the bloody engagement without injury and followed the 85th back to France, where its personnel served in sectors near Lens throughout the winter of 1917-18.
Unaffected by the German spring offensive launched in sectors to the south of the Canadian Corps, the 85th served a regular rotation in the line until early May 1918, when its personnel retired to Divisional Reserve for a period of rest and training. While the unit returned to duty in late July, its soldiers were on the move early the following month, travelling by train to Hangest-sur-Somme, near Amiens.
On the morning of August 8, 1918, the Canadian Corps participated in a major Allied counter-offensive launched on the German line east of Amiens. While the 85th did not participate in the early morning opening advance, its soldiers moved forward in the afternoon and continued the advance. After a 24-hour break, the unit participated in an attack on the village of Rosières at mid-morning August 10.
Once again, Gordon and Simon emerged from the battlefield unscathed. The 85th remained in the line until the night of August 13/14 and spent several days in the Amiens area before travelling northward to sectors near Arras in late August. Shortly before the 85th’s return to the Arras area, Allied forces launched a second attack on the German line east of the town.
The assault was a prelude to a concerted attempt to break through the Hindenburg Line, a major German system constructed during the winter of 1916-17, extending from Arras to Laffaux. The first stage of the plan involved an attack on a section east of Arras called the Drocourt-Quéant Line. During the evening of August 31, the 85th returned to the trenches and spent the following day completing preparations for its third combat assignment in less than a month.
At 5:00 a.m. September 2, 1918, the unit’s soldiers went “over the top” toward its assigned segment of the Drocourt-Quéant trenches. During the advance’s first 300 yards, the battalion suffered an estimated 50 % of the day’s casualties. Upon securing its first objective one hour and 15 minutes later, the 85th paused to re-organize before resuming the attack. The determined soldiers reached their intermediate objective at 8:40 a.m. and pressed onward to their final goal 50 minutes later.
Despite a heavy artillery barrage, the 85th stubbornly held its position and retired from the line shortly before mid-day. The Drocourt-Quéant engagement proved much more costly than the unit’s Amiens tour. Three Officers and 62 “other ranks” (OR) were killed during the morning’s advance, while 10 Officers and 160 OR were wounded and an additional 36 OR “missing believed wounded” by day’s end.
Only weeks shy of their twentieth birthdays, neither Private Gordon Potter nor Private Simon O’Haley survived the day’s fighting. According to Simon’s “circumstances of casualty” card, he was one of the unit’s earliest fatalities: “Whilst taking part in the attack from South of Harcourt to South of Dury, at about 5:00 a.m. on September 2 1918, he was hit in the head and instantly killed by an enemy machine gun bullet.” Simon was laid to rest in Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, eight miles south of Arras.
While Gordon survived the day’s advance and retreated with his comrades to their first objective at mid-day, he fell victim to the incessant artillery fire that followed the attack: “He was instantly killed by shrapnel which struck him in the chest at about 3:00 p.m. September 2, 1918, whilst on a carrying party south of Dury.” Gordon’s remains were buried in Dury Mill British Cemetery, 10 miles southeast of Arras.
Gordon’s and Simon’s story are two of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .